A few extracts from the records

– by our Chair Mike FitzGerald MBE

The thriving and busy Community Support Centre, formerly known as the Howard de Walden institute for women, so called after its benefactor the Dowager Lady Howard de Walden of Mote House, was built in Marsham Street, Maidstone during 1891. In those early years, the institute provided classes in cookery, dress making, nursing, drawing, singing, French and bible studies.

During the 1897 typhoid epidemic, many of the nurses who came to Maidstone from London hospitals to tend the sick were accommodated at the institute. The building went on to be a Voluntary Aid Attachment (V.A.D.) hospital during the First World War and subsequently was purchased as a Nurses’ Home by the then West Kent Hospital.

The Comprehensive Gazetteer 1894-5 states ‘The Mote the seat of the Earl of Eomney was rebuilt by the third Lord Eomney about 1795: took its name, not from any ancient moat around the previous edifice, but from the Anglo-Saxon word mot, signifying a ‘gathering place’ and stands in a fine park containing some grand oaks and beeches, comprising about 600 acres. It has for a long time been occupied by the Dowager-Duchess Lady Howard de Walden.

Terry McKenna Maidstone I remember it well ‘Didn’t use Pia’s coffee bar too much cos of those ROCKERS!! The Cheese and Grill was our preferred coffee bar in Week street (or any pub in my case)!! Trevor, myself, John Sergeant and Ray Farmer also played snooker, table tennis, 5 aside football and 10 Pin Bowling in Chatham. Another favourite pastime was of course the “Girls” at the Howard De Walden youth club. Didn’t have your “Maidstone Set” cards; just had to rely on my good looks and charm!! Lol

I was first involved in Howard De Walden in 2002 when KCC Councillor Margaret Featherstone was Chairman and she was very keen to redevelops the building and the initial costing were over 1 million pounds. We met with architects and funders but a little like now the climate was not right to attract adequate funds and even harder as the building was in local authority ownership.

I worked hard with others including the Maidstone Borough Council in a ensure the area of land that faced Boxley Road was not included in the housing transfer to Maidstone Housing Trust but offered to Howard de Walden to provide access and limited parking.

During the following year the Trustees of Howard de Walden agreed purchase terms for the building including the land in Boxley Road with Maidstone Borough Council. The Trustees must thank both our Clerk David Wainman and Ian Paterson one of our Trustees for their dedication and commitment to the purchase arrangements.

The Council decision to sell the freehold interest in the existing Howard de Walden premises together with the area to the northwest and the grassed amenity area fronting Boxley Road was made on April 27th 2006 in recognition of the fact that the disposal will help improve the social wellbeing of the area. 

Sadly Margaret Featherstone did not live to see the improvement that have taken place and the uptake of organisations using the building. She with her fellow trustees are owed a huge thank you for keeping the building going during those difficult times of transition.

Around this time the Maidstone Youth Forum used these premises on an regular basis providing a safe place for young people and I at that time was privileged to be  the Cabinet Member with youth responsibility at Maidstone Borough Council and it was then when the Hanging About project in the Town Centre was undertaken and was the start of the search for what has since become the Switch Café.

The amazing story is when they launched there chill out room which is now the Health Visitor area they attracted down to the centre Lady Walden, the family still have a home in Newmarket and are still involved with horses. Sadly the family are not sitting on a nest egg or even a Charity arm. We secretly hoped she would be our saviour.

The Guardian obituary of Lord Howard de Walden, landlord to many eminent figures in the medical profession and last of the great British racehorse owner-breeders, has died, aged 86. Recalled he inherited 120 acres of London’s west end and bred and owned the 1985 Derby winner, Slip Anchor. But the story he loved to dine out on was when, as a young Cambridge student fresh out of Eton, he was driving a new car in Munich when a man walked out in front of him and was knocked down. “He was only shaken up,” recalled de Walden. “But had I killed him, it would have changed the history of the world.” The man was Adolf Hitler.

What has been achieved?

The present Trustees have over seen the Boxley Road access and car park being provided, planning was not easy and thankfully our freehold deeds included access from Boxley Road and we now have a preservation order on the tree that enjoys it freedom of the site. 

Most of the windows have all been replaced on all three levels and the upper ‘dance’ floor has been sanded off and restored while the whole area has been decorated. Storage of water has been replaced by all mains supply and new fire and safety installations have been fitted. 

A new entrance and ramp have been provided together with fencing all to DDA standards.  Access and entrance from the Boxley Road has been ungraded and the gutters and soffits on this really high building have been replaced. 

Trustees have surfaced the right of way at the side of the building and KCC have replaced the really old streetlight with new. We have this land on our deed but it is a right of way – not a public right of way under the act. Hopefully local residents will value that and use the walkway for easy access.

So 2019 was brought us another major step forward in the development of the Community Centre when the main toilet block was stripped out and replaced with modern facilities and the Basement area a vast long room was brought back into use with Air-con heating and damp proofing a new floor and a new kitchen and toilets which is currently being used as a thriving nursery for local children meeting the real needs of the residents.

In 2020 the lounge room was renovated and decorated and new furniture bought to make this space a very attractive place to rent.

Together I believe we have helped improve the social wellbeing of the area and provided top class facilities to serve the wider community

Mike FitzGerald MBE
Chair of Trustees